Emmy Rossum might fit snugly into the actress-turned-singer mold, but it should be the other way around. While Rossum is most widely known for her role as Fiona Gallagher in the Showtime series Shameless and she’s appeared in films like The Phantom of the Opera and the upcoming Beautiful Creatures, she got her start singing. As a kid, she belted for the Metropolitan Opera’s Children Chorus and since then has released two albums, 2007’s Inside Out and a collection of Christmas songs that same year.
On Jan. 29, Rossum releases her latest album, Sentimental Journey, of classic songs made popular early in the 20th century by vocalists Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and others. DuJour spoke to Rossum about choosing the songs, what’s next on Shameless and why she’s so good a singer yet so bad at karaoke.
What made you decide to record an album of cover songs?
I grew up listening to this kind of music, so this was a return to what I love. For me, it was a fun thing to do and this is the music I love. So I picked my favorites from that period of time.
What appeals to you about songs from that specific time?
Male crooners—Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra—sing most of them, and I love the honesty in the lyrics and the melodies and harmonic structures. I grew up hearing ‘Apple Blossom Time’—my mom used to sing that to me as a lullaby—and I knew it was the first song I wanted to put on the record. I made the album with my own money and then partnered with Warner Brothers to release it because I wanted it to be my creation and to not have it messed with.
Is recording a song that’s already beloved different for you than recording an original track?
Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure because the songs are very well known. But at the same time, there’s the knowledge that these songs are successful because they’re great and you have to sing them and just not mess them up.
Is there any one that was particularly challenging?
I supposed ‘These Foolish Things’ intimidated me because both Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday did it so well, but I grew up listening to this music so it feels very natural to me.
Were there songs you wanted to include and couldn’t?
I limited myself to 12 because I wanted to keep with the theme of the project, which has each song match up with a month of the year. I just had that idea one day and wanted to explore what it would be like if a whole record took you on a journey through the year. I thought about just releasing one song a month, but that idea got scrapped. There are so many songs from this time period that are just amazing, so this was a good way to limit myself.
The closest most people get to putting songs they love onto a record is doing karaoke. What’s your go-to karaoke song?
I’m not especially good at karaoke. I overthink it a bit. But if I’m forced, I’ll resort to the Spice Girls. ‘Wannabe,’ of course.
Do you find singing nerve-wracking? Is it better or worse than the risks you take on film?
I think everybody gets nervous singing in public. Doing something live always causes jitters, and there’s no chance for a do-over like there is on a film or a TV show. I love what I do, so I have a lot of fun with it. I try to approach singing like I would playing a character, so the pressure is off me and it’s more about being creative and telling the story of the song.
The third season of your Showtime series Shameless recently began. What can we expect to see from your character, Fiona, in the coming episodes?
Lots of craziness. My character in episodes three and four goes to work as a checkout girl for a perverted supermarket clerk. Besides that, we have Bradley Whitford guest starring later in the season as a gay advocate looking to [William H. Macy’s] Frank for help. There’s also a funny storyline coming up about cancer, believe it or not.
In your upcoming movie Beautiful Creatures, a young woman has supernatural powers. If you were to have magic powers, what would they be?
I’d like to be invisible because then I could spy on people and see what they’re up to. That would be fun. And super creepy. I’d also like to be able to teleport because that would be an amazing way to see the world. I just went to Russia and that was a 12-hour flight and I was like, ‘Damn it, why isn’t teleportation real?’